Lyft Never Told New Drivers It's Technically Illegal, Not Licensed in St. Louis

lyftcar.jpg
Alfredo Medez on Flickr
Sorry, ma'am, you're technically breaking the law.
LJ Pryor doesn't want to work for Lyft anymore.

"I don't want to get in trouble, that's for sure," Pryor, 45, tells Daily RFT. "They'll have to get somebody else."

Lyft, the San Francisco-based ride-sharing app, launches here today, even though the company never got a license to operate in St. Louis City and County, something Pryor didn't know until he read a story in the Riverfront Times.

See also: Lyft Plans Weekend Launch in St. Louis, But Will the City Shut It Down?

Lyft's recruiters never mentioned -- to Pryor or to any other driver, he says -- that Lyft's launch is technically illegal until the company is certified. The St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission has already sent Lyft a cease-and-desist order.

"We've notified them that we consider that an illegal cab operation," Ron Klein, executive director of the MTC, tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Klein adds the commission will take "enforcement steps" to stop Lyft from operating without a license.

Once he heard that, Pryor says, he was ready to turn in his fuzzy pink mustache, the emblematic quirk that separates a Lyft car from a regular car.

"They should have told me about the licensing stuff," Pryor says. "I can see how taxi drivers can be mad if you're taking their business away."

Update, 11:30 a.m. - Paige Thelen, Lyft's spokeswoman, says the company is addressing the issue with drivers Friday night before the launch.

"We always stand behind our drivers as we work through challenges at the state and city levels," Thelen tells Daily RFT. "In the case that a driver is pulled over or cited, we will provide support immediately and cover the costs of any citations and necessary legal assistance. We will be communicating this to drivers before the launch tonight to ensure that they feel comfortable. They can't wait to hit the road." End of update.

Only one app-based car service, Carmel, is licensed to give rides.

lyftstache.jpg
lizasperling on flickr
Lyft is famous for its pink 'stache.
The taxi commission developed a special license for ride-sharing apps, and St. Louis rules say any companies that operate or dispatch vehicles for hire must be certified.

"If [Lyft] does not comply with the taxicab commission, they will be operating illegally and would be in violation of the law," MTC spokesman Richard Callow tells the St. Louis Business Journal.

Lyft is hoping St. Louis will turn a blind eye, especially because their business model subverts traditional taxi fares. As Lyft's spokeswoman Paige Thelen puts it, "applying for that license would be like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole."

Lyft doesn't technically charge a fare for rides. The app suggests a donation, which riders can increase or decrease. Any money paid on top of the suggested donation is treated like a tip and given directly to the driver.

"We've seen the community already express excitement and enthusiasm," Thelen says. "We believe the city would not want to take that away from its residents."

See also: Carmel Personal Driver App Goes Live, Brings St. Louis into 2012

St. Louis isn't alone in trying to figure out how Lyft fits in its transportation scene.

The donation-based system didn't fly in California. The Public Utilities Commision there rejected Lyft's argument that customers donate money voluntarily, forcing Lyft and similar companies to institute mandatory pricing.

The fight over Lyft is heating up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Madison, Wisconsin, where city officials are trying to regulate ride-sharing apps according to the same standards set for taxis. Madison mayor Paul Soglin says Lyft is trying to "muscle their way into the Madison market" instead of respecting city laws in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Companies like Lyft are banned in Miami, New Orleans, Houston, Austin and Portland. To fight back, Lyft recently hired two boutique Washington lobbying firms to pave the way for Lyft nationwide, according to the Huffington Post.

Follow Lindsay Toler on Twitter at @StLouisLindsay. E-mail the author at Lindsay.Toler@RiverfrontTimes.com.



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16 comments
Daniel DeVaney
Daniel DeVaney

For shame on writers and officials sticking up for the fascist transportation monopoly. Lyft and Uber should not be subject to these targeted pullovers by enforcement agencies. They are just scared of competition.

Ryan Gerhardt
Ryan Gerhardt

Saw one of these guys hard at work tonight =)

Lindsay Pattan
Lindsay Pattan

This is like Airbnb actually be illegal in most cities. Interesting...

Erik A. Williams
Erik A. Williams

Actually Rodney, all of the services I just mentioned require strict background checks as well as a vehicle inspection before someone becomes a driver. Also, you DO know exactly who is driving because a picture of the driver and their vehicle are displayed when you request a ride.

Erik A. Williams
Erik A. Williams

I live in LA and use Lyft, Uber, and Sidecar on a semi-regular basis. The commissions attempting to stop these services from operating were defeated long ago here in LA and will continue to be defeated in all the other cities too. #LongLiveLyft

Meg Wilson
Meg Wilson

Saw a Lyft car on Cherokee this morning.

Rodney Tow
Rodney Tow

What you don't know during a busy period they will charge you 8x's more than a regular cab, and really do you really trust somebody you don't know to pick you up, the way society is you don't know who's in that car, at least a cab is a regulated and is very visible and a bill board, let's be honest it's a safety issue, cabs might not be perfect and no ones perfect, but cabs are more safer, known and qualified, think of this is your safety worth the gimmick, if their not a gimmick,then why don't they run it legal, think about it, cab drivers are finger printed, check drivers record, criminal back ground check, just remember cab drivers are regulated and licensed, the other one our not,just think about it, a regulated cab co, you know are a stranger you don't know, just my opinion, it's your safety.

Nathan Cromwell
Nathan Cromwell

In Chicago you get charged per mile and a pickup fee and per call and other fees

Zachary Slavens
Zachary Slavens

This is dumb. Lyft and Uber (10x better than Lyft) work well because they apply standards and practices that work for what the market wants, not what taxi cab licensing agencies think are appropriate. That's why their rides are also cheaper than cabs, even up here in Chicago

Deb Woods
Deb Woods

I had a business colleague try & get a cab on a Sunday night from a hotel near the airport to Downtown STL. Estimated wait time: 2+ HOURS! This City is ridiculous.

Bob McCollum
Bob McCollum

This is ridiculous. Have you ever tried to get a cab in the city on a weekend? Sometimes it takes an hour. Competition would make the cab companies step up their game, but I guess cronyism always wins.

Twila R Lewis
Twila R Lewis

If they take any action if a person gets a ride and pays them nothing, they need to be certified because they're charging fares

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